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Reporter's Notebook: Washington
By Martin Kaste
February 26,1999

Minnesota Public Radio's Martin Kaste accompanied Governor Jesse Ventura on his trip to Washington, D.C. last week. He offers these insights.

Wherever Ventura went, local TV followed

Photo: Martin Kaste

When reporters from the sticks come to the big city to cover their governor, their primary concern is not to act or sound like reporters from the sticks.

This is hard to do - especially when your task is to follow the Big Guy around and write about what the people in the Big City [tm] think of him. This is an inherently self-provincializing act. Even if the Big City person says he likes your governor - he likes him a lot - you, the reporter from the sticks, just KNOW he's rolling his eyes at you and your frozen little state the moment you run off with your precious piece of laudatory tape.

The reporters from the sticks were not allowed anywhere near the best part of Ventura's weekend: the visit to the White House.

I would've sacrificed a largish calf to have been able to slip in on the President's dinner and reception for the nation's governors on Sunday night. Just think of the audio of Jesse and Terry schmoozing in the East Wing, champagne flutes in hand, chatting up Bill and Hillary.

But the governor gave us the next best thing: the expression on his face the next morning. It must have been hell on his cheek muscles - a huge, eye-squinting grin; the kind he only rarely flashes at the State Capitol. On Monday morning, he rarely turned it off as he gushed about his evening at the White House. He sounded a lot like a birthday boy after his first trip to Disneyland.

Before Ventura spoke to the National Press Club, press photographers documented his every move.

Photo: Martin Kaste

Ventura is a lot of things, but he's not a poseur. He has no problem admitting to being wowed by an evening at the White House. More than the fringed buckskin jacket or polished dome, this is what makes Ventura stand out among the other governors. "Professional politicians," or whatever you want to call them, like to affect a certain cool casualness; Ventura lets it all hang out. This sometimes gets him in trouble, but on Monday morning at the Press Club, it won him friends. The next day, other pols were catching on. Congressman David Minge told reporters that he, too, feels "awed" when he gets to visit the White House. Honest.

It's hip to be square.

It's not hard to get into the White House. Actually, they won't let you into the House itself, but if you call ahead claiming to be a working journalist and show up at the NW gate with a picture ID, they let you onto part of the driveway and "camera beach," the strip of real estate between the driveway and the Old Executive Building where CNN and those guys keep tripods set up 24 hours a day.

If you wander off the driveway and onto the north lawn, you can't help but notice fidgeting up on the roof where the snipers sit, and a uniformed guard will come running up to you with murder in his eye. Actually, he turns out to be a decent guy. Reporters used to be allowed on that part of the lawn, he says, until "a few people ruined it for everybody else."

So now we're stuck on the driveway , reporters from the sticks and Wolf Blitzers alike, hoping to God the governors will decide to wander down this way after their morning meeting with Clinton. The edge of the driveway might as well be a brick wall: fifty or more of us are packed up against it, but no one dares step across, even when the pushing and shoving gets a little obnoxious.

At the White House, reporters are kept at something farther than arm's length.

Photo: Martin Kaste

It's also bone-chilling out there. 32 degrees in Washington feels colder than it does in the "sticks," because you don't expect it. The governors are running an hour behind schedule - "Clinton time," the old hands say, referring to the President's need to connect deeply and personally with every guest after a White House meeting. When the governors finally do come out to board the waiting shuttle buses, all we can do is shout - politely - from our driveway barrier, hoping one or two will peel off and spend some time with the fourth estate. A few do, none of the ones we want to talk to , and it's striking how leisurely they stroll across the verboten lawn while we strain against the invisible barrier. Ventura - I can just make out the shine of his head above the blue suits on the north portico - gets on his shuttle bus free of the usual annoying questions.

No wonder the Governor says he prefers press coverage in D.C. There's nothing like snipers to keep media harassment at a respectable distance.

Martin Kaste covers the State Capitol for Minnesota Public Radio; generally at a distance closer than at the White House. You can reach him at